Non-Destructive Evaluation (NDE) of Missile Launcher Ablatives
PROGRAM: Mk 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS)
Develop a non-destructive evaluation (NDE) method for measuring the remaining
life of ablative material in situ for Navy ducted missile launchers.
The Mk 41 Vertical Launching System (VLS) is a general-purpose missile launcher
system capable of supporting air, surface, and underwater engagements. As part
of a ship’s total weapon system, the Mk 41 VLS includes the necessary equipment
to stow, identify, select, and schedule a mix of Anti-Air Warfare (AAW),
Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), and Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) missiles. The
Ship's Weapons Control System provides the interface to the launcher to route
the required electrical signals to and from the missile. Missiles are launched
perpendicular to the ship’s reference plane from canisters positioned below
deck to permit rapid engagement of targets in a 360-degree hemispherical
volume. A baseline VLS configuration for the U.S. Navy consists of eight
reloadable 8-cell modules that provide a total launch capability of 64
missiles. Missiles used in VLS utilize solid rocket motors with aluminized
The Mk 41 VLS utilizes a ducted exhaust system. In each 8-cell module, missile
rocket motor exhaust is routed from the missile canister into a common plenum,
then through an uptake (chimney) and vented into the atmosphere. Ablative
panels made from polymeric composites line the internal structure of both the
plenum and uptake. These ablative panels are location dependent and vary in
thickness from 0.375-2.000 in. and in sizes up to 2 x 4 feet. Since the rocket
motors utilize aluminized propellant, the expended propellant gas contains
particles that erode the composites. The erosion of the ablative panels
determines the life of the module structure. A new methodology that
non-destructively examines the ablative lining in situ to determine the
condition and remaining life of the ablative lining will provide a better way
to predict the life of the launcher.
Currently, launcher life predictions are based on erosion measurements taken
from a few modules used in test programs. The process requires gathering data
before and after launches for a differential analysis. Measurements are made
with a Coordinate measuring machine. These measurements are compared to
baseline measurements to obtain the differences in thousandths of an inch.
This methodology cannot be applied to the modules in the fleet because the
initial conditions are not recorded on those modules. Modules also need to have
several firings before valid erosion data can be gathered as the ablative
materials need to “season” before the wear becomes consistent. The equipment
requires extensive setup and cleaning of the ablative material, which is time
consuming. In addition, only ablative thickness is measured. Chemical and
physical changes are not recorded even though they are occurring.
An innovative technology is needed to collect data on modules in the fleet
aboard ship. The technique must utilize non-destructive means that do not
interfere with subsequent function of the ablative lining. The information
gathered by this new method will be used to create a NDE that can be correlated
to support predictions as to the amount of ablative protection remaining after
missile launches. The goal is to use the data gathered to evaluate the
remaining ablative life and efficiently determine if the life of the launcher
module can be extended. The technology will be developed on the current
polymeric composite ablative materials used in the Mk 41 VLS system (MXB-360
and MKBE-350). The collected data will include ablative material changes such
as thickness measured in thousands of an inch and any physical and chemical
changes that occur. The data collection will need correlation with a repeatable
methodology to provide a high confidence in determining the remaining launcher
ablative life. The Government will provide pertinent launcher technical data
and have access to a land-based, full-size launcher to support its concept
This new technology will be used to make improved prediction on ablative
material lining life.
I: Define and develop a concept to non-destructively measure ablative material
linings in situ in Mk 41 VLS. Feasibility will be established through modeling
and analysis. Characterization parameters will meet those in the description of
the topic. The Phase I Option, if awarded, will include the initial design
specifications and capabilities description to build a prototype in Phase II.
Develop a Phase II plan.
II: Based on the results of Phase I modeling and analysis, and the Phase II
Statement of Work (SOW), design, develop, and deliver a prototype of a new
non-destructive measuring method for ablative material linings in situ for the
Mk 41 VLS. Either a small-scale (laboratory) demonstration on representative
launcher material or a strong analytical simulation showing the potential
solution is required. The prototype will clearly demonstrate the ability to
accurately provide the needed information for determining the stated parameters
in the description. The demonstration can take place at either a Government or
company facility. The small business will prepare a Phase III development plan
to transition the technology for Navy production and potential commercial use.
III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Assist the Navy in transitioning the full-scale
prototype via a full-scale test on a Navy ship (Guided Missile Destroyer (DDG)
or Guided Missile Cruiser (CG)). Assist the Navy in establishing the
prototype’s capability via installation and procedural support on the chosen
platform. Also support the Navy in qualification and certification reviews
(Navy safety boards) as appropriate. If the Navy deems the prototype to be a
valid capability for measuring the life of the launcher ablative material, a
full technical data package will be produced to support future procurement.
This technology is applicable to items or systems implementing NDE of ablative
materials, such as the automotive, aircraft, and construction industries.
"MK 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) - Proudly Serving Navies the World
Over." Lockheed Martin 2013 http://www.lockheedmartin.com/content/dam/lockheed/data/ms2/documents/launchers/MK41_VLS_factsheet.pdf
Fiore, Eric. "A Promising Future for US Navy: Vertical Launching
System." Defense Systems Information Analysis Center Journal, Vol 1 No 2,
Pike, John. "MK 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS)." Military Analysis
Network. 1999. https://fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ship/weaps/mk-41-vls.htm
Ablative Panels; Polymeric Composite; Missile Launcher; Propellant Gas;
Composites Erosion; Ablative Lining.
** TOPIC NOTICE **
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